NNS: Cut to the Chase; Rookie Elliott Storms to First Career Nationwide Win at Texas

Jacob Seelman Featured, NASCAR, Southwest, West 0 Comments

April 4, 2014 — race report by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy NASCAR via Getty Images — FORT WORTH, TX — Doubt no longer. This young man is the real deal.

Chase Elliott proved to the world Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway exactly how high he can set the bar, passing his teammate Kevin Harvick with 15 laps to go and driving away to win the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 by 2.66 seconds over series veteran and all-time wins leader Kyle Busch.

The triumph was Elliott’s first career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in just his sixth series start and came at the same track his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won his first Nationwide race at back in 1998. The young star out of Dawsonville, Georgia also becomes the second youngest winner in series history, at 18 years, 4 months and 8 days old.

“It’s unbelievable,” a breathless Elliott said in Victory Lane. “I can’t believe it. Just to have this opportunity is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any racer trying to make it to the top. It just means the world to me. To race against these guys, it’s so special to come out and do what we did here tonight.”

“It’s crazy man, I went to Harvick for advice and to pass him for the lead there at the end, that’s pretty crazy. I can’t believe it. I really can’t. This is just awesome.”

Behind Elliott and Busch, Fontana winner Kyle Larson came home third, with Harvick finishing fourth after leading 101 of the race’s 200 laps. Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five at the finish, with JR Motorsports totaling four of the top seven cars.

Harvick led the field to the green flag after sweeping the afternoon’s knockout qualifying sessions, with Larson, six-time Texas winner Busch, series points leader Ty Dillon and rookie Chris Buescher all starting from the rear after inspection issues prevented them from turning a single lap in qualifying.

Despite that, none of those four would stay at the back very long. Busch and Larson in particular cut the largest swath through the field, with Busch plowing his way from 40th all the way to second by Lap 30, and Larson cracking the top five at Lap 35 as Harvick led the field early, pacing the opening 42 laps before the first caution flag of the night flew at Lap 42 for Trevor Bayne’s spin in Turn 3 after he blew a right rear tire. Bayne would finish the night in 23rd place, four laps down, and fall from first to fifth in the championship standings.

Harvick held the lead after pit stops and led the field back to green ahead of Earnhardt Jr. and Busch, however the run would be short-lived as the caution flag flew again for Robert Richardson on Lap 54 after the engine in his No. 23 machine expired and sent him hard into the Turn 2 wall.

Tire problems would become the story of the night as Tanner Berryhill brought out the the third caution of the night at Lap 63 when he lost a right rear tire coming off of Turn 4, but the dominant force of the night continued to be Harvick as he led the field again through the caution and continued to hold the lead until Busch stormed off Turn 4 and to the lead at Lap 88 by one one-thousandth of a second to end the longest-ever stretch of laps led by one driver to start a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas.

Busch would hold the lead as Harvick began to drop through the field complaining of a chatter in his Chevrolet, which turned out to be the loss of a front wheel weight from his machine. Meanwhile, both Larson and Earnhardt Jr. took shots at the Monster Energy Toyota as the field crossed halfway and began a cycle of green flag pit stops, led by rookie Elliott.

Through the cycle, Larson, Matt Kenseth, J.J. Yeley, Ryan Sieg and David Starr all led laps but at the conclusion of pit stops, it was Busch reclaiming his position at the top of the pylon. The pit cycle proved costly for Larson, however, who dropped from second to fifth and lost nearly 5 seconds of track time after staying out to lead a lap.

Tire problems would once again bite at Lap 121 off of Turn 4 when Chad Boat went spinning and tagged the outside wall down the frontstretch, bringing out the caution for the fourth time and sending the leaders back to pit road for four tires and fuel.

On the restart, Busch would lead the field to Turn 1, but the big mover would be the NAPA Chevrolet of Elliott, who stormed up the outside from fourth to seize the lead at Lap 135 for the second time in his NASCAR Nationwide Series career.

Elliott would hold the lead despite numerous challenges from boss Earnhardt Jr., but Junior would finally punch a hole to the inside of Elliott with 46 laps remaining and began to pull away, opening up a lead of more than a second in just three laps over his young hire.

Junior would open up a three second advantage over the field but a crash involving Jamie Dick and Chris Buescher on the backstretch would draw the caution again with 31 laps to go and sent the leaders to pit road for their final set of tires and fill of fuel.

Harvick would win the race off pit road with a sub-13 second pit stop and re-assume the lead for the Lap 178 restart, but storming once again up the outside was Elliott, who held fast to the rear of Harvick’s Chevrolet and worked his way flawlessly through to take the lead after Harvick bobbled coming off of Turn 4 with 15 to go. From there, the high school senior never looked back.

With the victory, Elliott also assumes the points lead by two over teammate Regan Smith.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series moves next week to Darlington Raceway for the running of the VFW/Sport Clips ‘Help A Hero’ 200, under the lights at 8 PM Eastern on ESPN2 and MRN Radio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.